The Chechen war’s second-largest battle to date ended December 24 when Russian forces regained control of Chechnya’s second-largest city, Gudermes. The Russian reoccupation of the city occurred after Chechen opposition forces chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov ordered his fighters to slip out of the encircled city in small groups. Maskhadov appeared on the pro-Dudayev television (broadcast from a mobile improvised studio in unoccupied territory) to say that the fighters had demonstrated to the world that Chechen resistance was continuing despite the elections ordered by Moscow.
An estimated 1,000 Chechen fighters under Commander Salman Raduyev had retaken Gudermes December 14 and held out against vastly superior Russian forces for ten days. The Russian command stopped reporting casualties after the second day, when it acknowledged 12 killed and several dozen missing. It was not until December 22 that the Russian command updated these figures to 30 killed and 141 wounded among Internal Affairs Ministry forces alone, excluding Army losses. On the 24th it acknowledged 70 killed, while claiming that an estimated 300 Chechen fighters had been killed. The Russian command also reported that the 267 count of civilian bodies was only a fraction of the number of civilians killed. Mopping-up operations were still under way yesterday in the city (pre-war population 60,000), severely damaged by Russian artillery and rocket fire.
Elsewhere in Chechnya, the Russian command claimed to have killed 50 Chechen fighters in one engagement in Benoy near Vedeno (55 kilometers southeast of Grozny) and acknowledged losing 12 soldiers killed and 25 wounded December 22 through 24 at locations other than Gudermes. Resistance forces took the district center Achkoy Martan without a fight over December 22 and installed a pro-independence administration at a popular rally.
Signaling renewed Western concern, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns cautioned Moscow that "the operation in Chechnya has been a grave, grave mistake, and too many people have died." German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel wrote to his Russian counterpart Andrei Kozyrev that "a repeat of the tragic events which took place one year ago, and which brought the civilian population terrible suffering, must be avoided at all cost." (10)
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